Telangana lost a legendary icon of peasant armed struggle in the late 1940s when Mallu Swarajyam breathed his last on March 19, 2022, at the age of 91.
She was a frail woman, but also a valiant warrior. She sympathized with the poor and landless and fought for the liberation of the people. At the age of 11, she saw the problems of debt bondage, understood the atrocities of landlords, and gave rice from her kitchen to starving workers. She took up arms at a tender age of 16 and became commander of the village army to fight the Nizam and his subordinate Doras (zamindars with income powers). She was Mallu Swarajyam.
She was twice a CPI(M) MP and a fiery speaker all along. There was a steady stream of visitors to the CPI(M) party headquarters in Hyderabad to pay their respects. When his mortal remains reached his village in Nalgonda District, it turned into a sea of humanity. The family donated his body to the local hospital for medical studies.
The mother – the mentor
“I was born in 1930 or 31. My mother gave me that name. One of his relatives attended Congress meetings and had participated in Satyagraha in Bombay. He told my mother about Gandhi and the liberation movement. I was a 20 day old toddler. Inspired by her stories, my mother named me Swarajyam,” she once wrote in an autobiographical account of her life.
The bravery of Jhansi Rani and the valor of Rani Rudrama of Orugal (now Warangal) influenced Swarajyam in his childhood. She also learns swimming and horse riding.
His mother gave him Maxime Gorki’s book: Mother (congratulations to his mother, who drew new outlines for this child’s program). This book is the saga of a mother, who continued the revolutionary work left by her sons and comrades when the Russian authorities put them in prison. Nilovna, the mother of the illustrious novel, moved Swarajyam.
Once, a worker named Ellamma was pounding rice. She fainted and fell. Swarajyam gave him water. When Ellamma told her she was hungry, Swarajyam provided her with food. Then all the women who were pounding the rice said that they too were hungry. Food was not immediately available to everyone. The women would at least ask for uncooked rice. They said they would soak the raw rice in water and eat. This act of good samaritan became an act of blasphemy in his family. However, his mother protected Swarajyam from the wrath of other family members, she recalls in her account.
Later, his mother organized a “Balala Sangham” (Children’s Organization). When a girl, married as a child, was forcibly taken away by her in-laws, Swarajyam and the Balala Sangham confronted the girls’ family and refused to let the girl be sent away. It was a great victory for the Swarajyam child. It was another matter that the two families – the boy’s and the girl’s – got together and sent the girl back to her in-laws later.
On the way to struggle
At that time, the girls sang songs about their plight. Swarajyam wrote a folk song (called a cradle song, since the refrain of the song is ‘Uyyalo’ means ‘Oh Cradle!’) in his book. The song urged people against the atrocities of Visunuru, the owner of Jangaon taluk. They often sang this song on those days.
These incendiary songs enlightened the conscience of the poor and awakened them to rebel against the system. Swarajyam did everything in the village to unite the people against the feudal lords and came out of the village with a gun slung over her shoulder.
While being a guerrilla, she was also a midwife and also assisted in childbirth. Ailamma, another fighter, bravely resisted. “Let me see what the owner could do to me,” she yelled. This was Swarajyam’s victory. Many women came forward. Many villages joined the rebellion. Swarajyam’s messages electrified the atmosphere. His words inspired thousands to dive into the fight.
Swarajyam – A guerrilla leader
Swarajyam was quite infamous as a rebel leader. Seventy-five years ago, the Nizam’s government announced a reward of ₹10,000 on his head. But Swarajyam lived among the masses without any fear of being arrested. Everyone, from kids to nonagenarians, knew her.
His sister Sasirekha, his brother Bhim Reddy Narasimha Reddy, his classmate Ravi Narayan Reddy stood by his side giving him unwavering support.
When the fire burns in the heart against injustice, the finger stands firmly on the trigger. Swarajyam triggered the awakening of the people against the feudal system.
She gave a clarion call: “Beg not saying”Dora kaalmokta, Nee banchan‘ (I bow before you my Lord, I am your slave!). Instead, demand: “Land for the tiller and palm trees for the toddy tappers!” Say, “This is a struggle for land, livelihoods and liberation.”
Such slogans spurred people to action and young people took up arms. She learned generosity when her family members distributed hundreds of acres of land to the poor as a child.
As a teenager, she could not bear to see the suffering perpetrated by the Razakars who threw themselves on the hearths and houses, mercilessly chased the inhabitants of the houses, reduced the villages to ashes, occupied the fields and destroyed the crops, kidnapped the women, tortured young and old.
Swarajyam woke people up with fury and fire. She asked, “If the Razakars enter the villages, they kill us anyway. Why not kill some before you die?
It inspired young people to prepare for death and to kill. Swarajyam formed an armed squad in each village, which became three thousand villages Dalams (groups).
She commanded these guerrilla forces. They converted everything they had in their hands into weapons – a catapult, a cold water or pepper water cannon, etc. Additionally, they were also armed with domestically manufactured firearms and handguns.
Swarajyam felt no limits as a woman. She inspired the peasantry who roamed the fields as farmers by day and guerrillas by night. She provoked the masses: “Would you continue to be slaves to Nizam or would you become masters of your own life by fighting?
After listening to such fiery speeches, who could refuse to take up his challenge? Who would be shy to arm themselves?
The Zamindars were local revenue lords loyal to the Nizam. They bled the people white. If a child was born, gifts had to be given to him. If a couple gets married, they have to pay the tax to the landlord. All the workmen, the artisans, the potter, the carpenter, the blacksmith, the weaver, had to give part of their earnings free to the owners.
New mothers had to go to the fields just after three days of giving birth. Nursing mothers were not allowed to breastfeed toddlers. Such cruelty was perpetrated on women. Swarjyam turned these women into a rebellion.
Feudalism was rampant in the land of Nizam. The owners resided in fort-like structures called gadis. Even if the gadiThe gates were closed, people had to take off their shoes when they passed by.
During a conversation, they could not start a sentence without first saying: “Nee Banchen Kaalmokta (I bow before your feet)”.
The poor had to put their head at the owner’s feet. Commoners should never wear the headgear in front of the lord. Before they see it, they should remove it.
“Instead of dying of fear every day, let us fight without fear,” Swarajyam urged the people. It brought together 20 to 30 people in each village.
Beyond the militant struggle, she opened libraries. If the building was not available, she asked the young people to read books under a tree. She urged them to form self-help groups and solve local problems.
Andhra Mahasabha was fighting untouchability at that time. Telengana was terribly shaken when Deshmukh Visunuru Ramachandra Reddy was brutally murdered by young rebels. He was a notorious and cruel landlord these days.
Gradually, the revolutionary movement spread to many areas of Telangana. The martyrdom of Doddi Komarayya of Kadavendi at the hands of Reddy’s goondas on July 4, 1946 was a turning point for the movement. “Death is inevitable. So, fight and die,” the people made a decision.
Ordinary people turn into extraordinary fighters
Swarajyam revealed in an interview that Major Jaipal Singh trained her in the use of firearms. They learned tactics to fight off the Nizam’s armed police and Razakar’s vigilantes. They also learned to protect their weapons from enemies.
She recounted her experiences: “My nephew shot at the police, killed an SI, after realizing he had spent all the ammunition in the shot, he broke his gun and died in the shot. He didn’t want enemies to take his weapon and use it against his fellow rebels. How fearless was he and did he not care about her death and did he act bravely? ” she says.
She lost four of her close relatives in the battles. His older brother was a lawyer. His three sons joined the revolutionary movement. One commanded the armed squads. Another was killed during an encounter.
Far from true liberation
As a result of the heroic Telangana armed struggle, 3,000 villages were liberated. Nizam rule collapsed. Hyderabad was incorporated into the Indian Union. The villages got rule from the Indian Constitution.
However, Swarajyam was sad that the lives of the poor did not change despite this release. New owners have replaced the old ones, she lamented. Landless and poor peasants are still fighting for land. Toddy’s tappers still haven’t secured their ownership rights to the palm trees. 75 years have passed since our independence. We celebrate golden celebrations for the slogan – Land to the taller – which has remained mere rhetoric.
Mallu Swarajyam was elected to the Assembly in 1978 and 1983. Once in the Assembly, she brought pieces of spent bullets and said that in her constituency, a landlord had occupied the land of a poor man. When she gathered people and questioned this bossy, the owner fired at the people. People were throwing stones and saving their lives.
Swarajyam collected the spent cartridges from the cartridges the owner fired and presented them before the Assembly. “Is this our democracy? she asked.
Who will answer this question? Every voter answers this question or asks it to guarantee our democracy.
(The author is Dean of the Faculty of Law, Mahindra University, Hyderabad and former Central Information Commissioner.)
(The Fed seeks to present views and opinions from all sides of the spectrum. Any information, ideas or opinions contained in the articles are of the author and do not reflect the views of the Fed.)